Egyptian Building

Egyptian Bldg Richmond

American Civil War Museum
Written By American Civil War Museum

The mission of The American Civil War Museum is to be the preeminent center for the exploration of the American Civil War and its legacies from multiple perspectives: Union and Confederate, enslaved and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians.

A First for the Medical College

The Richmond Medical College began holding classes here in the fall of 1844 while the building was still being constructed. In 1854 the school became the Medical College of Virginia. During the war, MCV was the only medical college in the South to remain open. It graduated a class of surgeons each year. MCV continued operating after the war and in 1900 became the first medical college in the country to offer a 4 year curriculum. In 1918 the school admitted its first female student, but it would take until 1951 for the school to admit its first African American pupil. That student was Jean Harris, a Richmonder whose father was a physician. Prior to medical school, she “had never been in the presence of more than a few whites at a time, and never in such isolation.” At the same time, she said her classmates “did not know what to expect of me either. The only blacks they had seen had been principally in their kitchens.” Harris soon proved herself and was graduated in the top five of her class. She recalled: “I worked on both the white wards and the black wards. I delivered white babies and black babies…it was a good experience for MCV as well as for me, and it certainly was a good experience for those white patients who would otherwise never have seen a black physician.”

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“I was not prepared for Jean. I was raised in a Confederate cradle, and until then my school and college classes had been all-male, all-white and mostly private school graduates. I wasn’t a snob or active segregationist. I was just naive.” - Hunter McGuire Jr., M.D., (great grandson of Hunter Holmes McGuire) one of Harris’ classmates at MCV.

Jean Harris later returned to MCV to become the first full-time black faculty member. In 1978, she was appointed Secretary of Health and Human Resources for the state of Virginia by Governor John Dalton, simultaneously becoming the first black person and first woman to serve in a Virginia Governor’s cabinet.

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